Blog Archives

The most important theology books of the last 25 years

In case you haven’t seen this yet, Christian Century recently asked a number of influential theologians to name 5 books that they thought were the most important theology books written in the last 25 years. You’ll have to read the post to see the comments that each person made regarding their choices, but I’ve listed their selections below.

I will say that it looks like some of them missed the point of the question. They were asked to list the most important theology books, not just the ones that they thought were really good. Some of these books shouldn’t even be in the conversation for most important theology books of the last 25 years. (Yong, Townes, and Coakley seemed particularly egregious in this area.)

I’d be intrigued to hear in the comments what you think about two things:

  1. Who do you think did the best job identifying the 5 most important books of the last 25 years?
  2. Are there any books that were excluded from all these lists, but that you think should be considered among the most important books of the last 25 years?

Stanley Hauerwas

  • George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age
  • John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel
  • Robert Jenson, Systematic Theology
  • James Wm. McClendon Jr., Systematic Theology
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason

Amos Yong

  • Nancy L. Eiseland, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability
  • Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit.
  • Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation
  • J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account.
  • Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could Not Be a Christian

Emilie M. Townes

  • Katie Geneva Cannon, Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community
  • Charles H. Long, Significations: Signs, Symbols, and Images in the Inter­pretation of Religion
  • Peter J. Paris, The Spirituality of African Peoples: The Search for a Common Moral Discourse
  • Larry L. Rasmussen, Earth Community, Earth Ethics
  • Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology

Lawrence S. Cunningham

  • Bernard McGinn, The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism
  • Herbert McCabe, God Matters and God Still Matters
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason
  • David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth

Sarah Coakley

  • Andrew Louth, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys
  • Steven Payne, John of the Cross and the Cognitive Value of Mysticism: An Analysis of Sanjuanist Teaching and Its Philosophical Implications for Contemporary Discussions of Mystical Experience
  • Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God.
  • Linda Alcoff and Elizabeth Potter, editors. Feminist Epistemologies.
  • William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ

Kevin Vanhoozer

  • David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission
  • John Webster, Word and Church: Essays in Church Dogmatics
  • N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God.
  • Nicholas Wolterstorff, Divine Discourse: Philosophical Reflections on the Claim That God Speaks.
  • John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church.

George Hunsinger

  • Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church
  • Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist
  • Sarah Coakley, Powers and Submissions: Spirituality, Philosophy and Gender
  • J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account
  • Derek S. Jeffreys, Spirituality and the Ethics of Torture

Willie James Jennings

  • Sallie McFague, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology
  • John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason
  • Eugene F. Rogers, Sexuality and the Christian Body: Their Way into the Triune God
  • Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation
  • Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk

2010 Karl Barth Blog Conference

The annual Karl Barth Blog Conference (KBBC) is up and running at Der Evangelische Theologie.

The overarching theme is ”Karl Barth in Conversation with…”, where the blank is filled by some significant thinker or field. Each conference session contains plenary posts and responses that cluster into sub-conversations.

This week will see posts on Barth in conversation with Schleiermacher, Bavinck, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, and Jenson. (You can view the Week 1 outline and author bios here.) Today’s post by Matthew Bruce deals with “Schleiermacher and Barth: On Theology as the Science of the Divine Word.”

If you’re looking to understand Barth’s theology and his location in the broader theological community, this should be a fascinating conference to follow.

Eccentric Existence 2 (introduction and structure)

David Kelsey’s Eccentric Existence undoubtedly ranks as one of the most significant works in theological anthropology of the last several decades. Indeed, I recently heard it described as the most significant theological work of the last decade. I’m still assessing whether I think it warrants that kind of praise, but such a comment does highlight one important feature of the book. Although its primary focal point is theological anthropology, Kelsey ranges broadly enough in his discussions that very few areas of theology are left untouched. Thus, it bears close consideration from anyone interested in contemporary theology.

The basic shape of Eccentric Existence runs as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Part One –  Created: Living on Borrowed Breath
  • Part Two – Consummated: Living on Borrowed Time
  • Part Three – Reconciled: Living by Another’s Dream
  • Codas

The first volume comprises the introduction and the first two parts, with the last part and the coda reserved for the second volume.

The created/consummated/reconciled framework is fundamental for how Kelsey understands the nature of a truly Christian theological anthropology, and we’ll look more closely at this in subsequent posts.

Another interesting structural feature of the book is the use of multiple “small print” chapters. Kelsey routinely introduces key ideas in the main part of his argument (e.g. the anthropological centrality of wisdom literature), developing them just enough for the reader to understand what he means and why these ideas are important for his argument. But, he’ll often refrain from offering an extended discussion and defense of these ideas within the course of the argument itself. Instead, he’ll  reserve that work for his small print chapters, which then function like really long footnotes. Of the 25 main chapters in the book, nearly half are accompanied by such small print discussions.

James K. A. Smith recently commented on Eccentric Existence and offered the following as a suggested reading plan for engaging the book.

If I were crafting a multiyear reading program for Eccentric Existence, I would recommend the following strategies to help non-theologians wade into its deep waters: On the first reading, I would suggest skipping (or merely skimming) those chapters set in smaller font. They are generally pursuing more technical questions and, at least on a first reading, can be treated as asides—though returning to them on a second reading will yield fruit for nontheologians, too. For an orientation, Introductions 1A, 2A, and 3A are necessary reading. The crucial chapter for understanding the architectonic of the book is chapter 3A. But I would also recommend that, relatively early (perhaps after reading 3A), readers skip to the final Coda (of three) at the end of the book: “Eccentric Existence as Imaging the Image of God” (pp. 1008-1051). This reads almost as an independent treatise (if one is familiar with chapter 3A) and does two important things: first, it explains how the three narratives of God relation’s to humanity are intertwined in Christ (as the image of God), and second, it explains why Kelsey does not use the imago Dei as the orienting image for his project. The latter is especially important given the prominence of appeals to “the image of God” in Christian scholarship.

This two-volume project runs to over a thousand pages by the time he’s done, so it will be impossible for me to survey everything that he addresses with any kind of adequacy. Instead, I will follow Kelsey reading plan to some extent. First, I’ll trace Kelsey’s argument through the main chapters of the book. Then, I’ll go back and comment on some of the more important/interesting small print chapters. And, finally, I’ll comment on the codas at the end of the book.

Thinkers you just can’t get into

Peter Leithart has posted a very helpful summary of Frederiek Depoortere’s Badiou and Theology (T&T Clark, 2009), which in turn serves as a nice explanation of why Badiou’s philosophy is seen as being significant for contemporary theology. As I was reading the post, however, I realized that for me Badiou falls into that category of thinkers that other people think are really important, but that I just don’t care about yet. Although I know quite a number of very intelligent people who insist that Badiou is someone that we need to pay close attention to, I just can’t do it.

That started me thinking about other theologians and philosophers that I hear a lot about but just haven’t been able to get interested in for one reason or another. At the risk of making myself look like a complete idiot, the people who come to mind off the top of my head  include Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, John Milbank (anyone catching the pattern here?), Sally McFague, Alister McGrath, Jurgen Moltmann, and (for some unknown reason) Rowan Williams. That’s not to say that these are unimportant thinkers (especially Williams!), just that I haven’t been able to get interested in their theology to this point.

What do you think? Who are the theologians and philosophers that you’ve heard a lot about but you aren’t convinced yet that you need to spend that much time on them? I’m particularly interested in people who are still writing/teaching today that you don’t think you need to spend your time on, but I’d be interested in what you have to say about historical figures as well. And, you don’t have to limit yourself to philosophers and theologians. If there are Bible scholars that work this way for you, add them to the list.

Resources for understanding theology around the worlds

If you (like most of us) need to do a little more work on understanding theological perspectives from around the world, Faith and Theology has a nice, short review of the Global Dictionary of Theology (IVP 2008) edited by William A. Dyrness and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen. I haven’t used it yet, but it sounds like a great resource.

Other resources on the subject that I have found helpful include:

  • Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland (eds.), Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity (Baker Academic, 2006)
  • Timothy C. Tennant, Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think and Discuss Theology (Zondervan, 2007)
  • Philip Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (Oxford, 2008).

Have you run across any other books that you would recommend for understanding global perspectives on biblical and theological issues?